Ohio is rich with American history. It was the first free state formed from the Northwest Territory and home to the first private historically black college or university (HBCU), Wilberforce University. It’s also the birthplace of presidents, astronauts, inventors and writers, all of whom helped define American excellence. Many of these Ohio heroes were African Americans who fought tirelessly for equity and justice.
As we celebrate Black History Month in Ohio, there are many places around our state where you can experience the stories of these amazing people. From historic homes to museums, there’s lots to see not just in February, but throughout the year. Often these museums are operated by volunteers, so you’ll want to call before you visit.
The Kings Art Complex in Columbus
The Martin Luther King Jr. Performing and Cultural Arts Complex connects the community through the arts. The Elijah Pierce Gallery presents a wide range of historical and contemporary exhibitions that include painting, sculpture, graphics, photography, and decorative arts. The main gallery is named in honor of the late Elijah Pierce, America’s foremost wood carver of 20th century folk art. They also offer an award-winning youth arts program and was named “Best Community Art Center” by Columbus Parent Magazine.
Ohio History Connection in Columbus
The Ohio History Connection hosts several events and exhibits in honor of Black History Month, celebrating achievements, milestones and of course, the history of African Americans. Covering an array of subjects like suffrage, sports and soldiers. Event highlights include:
- Echoes in Time Threatre: African American Women and the Vote
Saturday, Feb. 1 & 15, performances at 1 & 3 PM
- Ohio–Champion of Sports Exhibit Tour: African American Sports Heroes
Saturday, Feb. 8 & 22, 2 – 2:30 PM
- Staff Pick: African American Soldiers in World War I
Sunday, Feb. 9, Noon – 12:30 PM
Riffe Gallery in Columbus
Located in the Verne Riffe Center first floor lobby downtown, the gallery focuses on showing Ohio artists. This year, with Ohio History Connection’s National Afro-American Museum &Cultural Center, it’ll showcase 12 Ohio visual artists. The artwork is a selection from living Ohio artists represented in the National Afro-American Museum& Cultural Center’s permanent art collection.
Ohio Diaspora — Art from the Collection of the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center and Ohio Artists
Saturday, Feb. 1 – April 11
National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce
The National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center (NAAMCC), which is part of the Ohio History Connection’s historic site system, is the home of one of the nation’s largest African American archives and collections. Items include Alex Haley’s final draft of Roots, Alphonso Woodall’s Carnegie Hero Medal, and an unparalleled collection of works from the Black Arts Movement. The museum also offers arts and educational programming monthly. This year, it’ll host a film series covering key issues in African American history:
- Black History Matters Film Series: I Am Not Your Negro
Saturday, Feb. 1, 1 PM
Black History Matters Film Series: Rigged—The Voter Suppression Playbook
Saturday, Feb. 8, 1 PM
Black History Matters Film Series: Tell Them We Are Rising–Historically Black Colleges & Universities
Saturday, Feb. 15, 1 PM
Black History Matters Film Series: Jubilee Singers
Saturday, Feb. 22, 1 PM
- Price (included with museum admission): $6 general, $5 senior, $3 ages 6–17 & FREE for Ohio History Connection members
Call: 800.752.2603 or visit ohiohistory.org/naamcc
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Wilberforce
The Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument is less than two miles from NAAMCC, and it’s a National Park Service site. Colonel Charles Young was the third African American to graduate from West Point and the first to become a national park superintendent, a military attaché, and a colonel, making him the highest-ranking Black officer in the U.S. Army until his death in 1922. His legacy lives on today at this national monument..
The Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center in Dayton
Dayton was dubbed the “Land of Funk,” for a reason. This new museum preserves the legend of funk music in the Gem City through a collection of memorabilia and interactive activities.
Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton
Learn about the life of internationally-acclaimed poet Paul Laurence Dunbar at his house in Dayton. Dunbar gained worldwide fame for his poetry, stories and plays in the early 20th century and was a voice for equality. In 1936, the Ohio General Assembly dedicated the house as the very first state memorial honoring African-American history.
Shaker Heights Historical Society
Shaker Historical Museum managed by Shaker Historical Society has a new exhibit exploring the African American story in Shaker Heights. The exhibit runs from February to July, with the opening on Friday, Feb. 28 from 6 – 8 PM.
Exclusion & Inclusion—The African American Story of Shaker Heights
Wednesdays – Fridays, 11 AM – 5 PM & Sundays 2 – 5PM, Feb. 28 – July 2
Price: $10 or $5 for Ohio History Connection members
Call: 800-860-6078 or visit shakerhistoricalsociety.org
Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati
The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati is celebrating extraordinary African American women this season. With Coretta Scott King on tour and Harriet Tubman: Straight Up Outta’ The Underground showing March 14 and 15, there are multiple opportunities to learn about inspirational African American females.
John Rankin House in Ripley
Explore Ohio’s connection to the Underground Railroad at the newly-restored John Rankin House in Ripley. The Rev. John Rankin was an ardent abolitionist who assisted the enslaved on their paths to freedom. At this National Historic Landmark, you can step inside one of the best-documented and most active Underground Railroad “stations” in Ohio. This Ohio History Connection site is open from April until October.
John Parker House in Ripley
The John Parker House is the former home of African-American abolitionist John Parker. He escaped slavery to become a successful inventor and businessman in Ripley before the Civil War. Parker is credited with assisting hundreds of enslaved people to freedom through this Front Street home.
John Mercer Langston Historic House in Oberlin
A National Historic Landmark in Oberlin, this was the home to John Mercer Langston, an attorney, abolitionist, diplomat, US Congressman and college president. As the town clerk in Oberlin, Langston was one of the first African-Americans elected to public office in the United States.
Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati
Discover the the place where this famous author spent her formative years. Stowe was an abolitionist and women’s rights advocate and wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the popular 19th century novel credited with laying the groundwork for the Civil War. This month, the Harriet Beecher Stowe House is starting their Year of the Woman: Club with a screening and discussion of the an award-winning documentary on Ida B. Wells.
Year of the Woman: Ida B. Wells – A Passion for Justice
Saturday, Feb. 22, Noon – 2 PM
Elizabeth Harvey First Free Black School
Visit the one room schoolhouse, and now museum, built specifically to educate non-whites in Warren County. The Elizabeth Harvey Free Black School, built in 1831 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, still stands on its original location. The school remained in operation until the early 1900s, and one of the students from this school, Orindatus S.B. Wall, became the first African American captain in the U.S. Army and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center immerses visitors into the stories of the Underground Railroad. The mission of the museum is to reveal stories of heroes from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring us to fight for human rights today.
This is just a small sampling of the many Black historic and cultural institutions within a few hours of where you live. There are African-American art museums, galleries, and community centers on college and university campuses as well. We invite you explore Ohio to learn more about the contributions and accomplishments of African Americans—known and unknown—around our beautiful state.
Jerolyn Barbee, Assistant Director, National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center
Hadley Drodge, Assistant Curator, National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center